The Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP) is safely destroying a chemical weapons stockpile stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot, or BGAD. The depot, located near Richmond, Kentucky, provides conventional ammunition services, chemical defense equipment management and manufacturing capabilities for the Department of Defense (DOD). The Blue Grass Chemical Activity, a tenant of the 15,000-acre depot, is responsible for the safekeeping of that portion of the nation’s chemical weapons stockpile stored at the depot. Together, the U.S. Army and the community surrounding BGAD are working in a committed partnership to support the safe destruction of the Blue Grass chemical weapons stockpile.
What chemical weapons are stored at BGAD?
The Blue Grass chemical weapons stockpile comprises more than 500 tons of weaponized blister and nerve agent in rockets and artillery projectiles. Contrary to popular belief, these chemicals are not gases. In their original form, they are liquids. When stored for a long period of time, they can become thick and sludge-like. X-rays have found the mustard agent in some projectiles to have solidified into what is called a “heel.”
What is BGCAPP?
The Blue Grass plant is a state-of-the-art, full-scale pilot plant designed to safely and efficiently neutralize the Blue Grass chemical weapons nerve agent stockpile. In June 2003, a contract was awarded to Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass (BPBG) to design, construct, test, operate and ultimately close this facility.
BGCAPP designed, permitted, constructed, systemized, is operating and will close an Explosive Destruction Technology (EDT) facility at BGAD to destroy the entire stockpile of mustard projectiles. A Static Detonation Chamber (SDC) was selected by BPBG as the EDT best suited to augment BGCAPP in the accomplishment of this task. A second, larger SDC was also subsequently selected and is being placed at BGCAPP.
How will the weapons be destroyed?
The DOD selected neutralization as the method of agent destruction. During the neutralization process, munitions are disassembled using modified reverse assembly. After the agent is drained, it is chemically decomposed and neutralized by caustic or water hydrolysis. The resulting chemical compounds are known as hydrolysate. The hydrolysate from the agent neutralization processes is then shipped to a permitted hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facility for final destruction. Metal parts and contaminated dunnage, which consists of materials such as the contaminated wooden pallets upon which the weapons are stored, are thermally decontaminated in a Metal Parts Treater. Non-contaminated dunnage is shipped off site for disposal in permitted landfills. Water is recycled back into the plant and reused as part of the destruction process. Gas effluents are treated, filtered and monitored.
Because solidification of the mustard agent was found in a significant number of mustard projectiles, rendering them unsuitable for the automated neutralization process described above, the SDC system is being used to destroy the entire Blue Grass mustard stockpile.
Once the mustard campaign is complete, the current SDC 1200, along with the larger SDC 2000, will be used to destroy drained rocket warheads and overpacked munitions. Both SDC systems are spherical, fully-contained and armored, high alloy stainless steel vessels that use electrically generated heat at more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to detonate or deflagrate the munitions, thus destroying the chemical agent and energetics.
This equipment uses fully monitored pollution abatement systems, which includes thermal oxidizers and scrubbers to remove particulates, sulfur-dioxides, chlorine and any heavy metals. This equipment also uses robust filtration systems to ensure air released back to the environment is clean.
Who will destroy the weapons?
The Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (PEO ACWA), headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, is responsible for safely destroying the Blue Grass stockpile. BPBG, the systems contractor, operates the chemical agent destruction facility and SDC system. Many other organizations are working in partnership with PEO ACWA and the BPBG team to complete this mission successfully, including the Department of the Army, U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity, Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection (KDEP), Kentucky Division of Emergency Management and the Madison County Emergency Management Agency.
How will the environment be protected?
Protection of the unique environment surrounding BGAD is one of the project’s top considerations. Therefore, the environmental permits for the plant are based on special environmental studies conducted locally. Additionally, the environment is continually monitored during destruction activities to ensure that operations are protective of the area. Oversight is provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and KDEP during the entire process.
What will happen to the plant and depot once the weapons have been destroyed?
The areas of the plant that have come in contact with chemical agent will be decontaminated and the equipment dismantled in accordance with regulatory requirements. The disposition of the remainder of the plant has not yet been determined and will be negotiated among the Department of the Army, Commonwealth of Kentucky, PEO ACWA and BGAD. The depot will continue with its missions of supplying munitions, chemical defense equipment and Special Operations support to the DOD.
What are the Kentucky Chemical Demilitarization Citizens’ Advisory Commission and the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board?
In accordance with Public Law 102-484, the Kentucky Chemical Demilitarization Citizens’ Advisory Commission, or CAC, serves as a bridge between the community and the government by providing a forum for exchanging information about chemical weapons destruction. The governor of Kentucky appoints nine members to the CAC, including seven private citizens and two representatives of state agencies who work closely with the chemical weapons destruction program. The CAC conducts public meetings to facilitate consistent public participation in the program. Local citizens can receive meeting notices and minutes by email. The Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board, known as the CDCAB, is an independent subcommittee of the CAC. The CDCAB is made up of a diverse group of community leaders who organized to represent the views and concerns of all sectors of the local community on issues regarding Kentucky’s chemical weapons destruction program. With input from many interested parties, the board’s primary objective is to share information with the community and provide input to government decision-makers.
As the chemical weapons destruction project moves forward, the topics addressed by the CAC and its CDCAB are as important as they are varied. For information on current topics being considered by the commission, to learn the upcoming meeting schedule or to be added to the mailing list, please contact the CAC secretary, Valerie Merlin, at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on the board, please contact co-chairs Craig Williams at (859) 986-7565 or Madison County Judge-Executive Reagan Taylor at (859) 624-4700.
How can I learn more?
The Blue Grass Chemical Stockpile Outreach Office provides the community with an information source for chemical weapons destruction at BGAD. It supports the program’s commitment to openness and public involvement. The staff develops and provides information papers, brochures and exhibits, makes available technical documents and reports and provides speakers to local groups and organizations to address program-related topics. The office also serves as a communication channel for the community to provide input to program-related topics. The office, located at 1000 Commercial Drive, Suite 2, in Richmond, is currently closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff members are working remotely, and plans are being developed to re-open the office with strict health and safety protocols in place. For more information, visit www.peoacwa.army.mil or contact the staff at (859) 626-8944 or email@example.com.